Research and news about streaming’s impact on TV watching habits are plentiful. Most recently, U.S. streaming usage hit a new high in April, capturing more than 30% of audiences’ total TV time. This time of fragmentation in viewership has significant implications for advertisers. However, many marketers have continued to focus on traditional TV and increased their advertising spend steadily since the COVID-driven pullbacks at the beginning of 2020.

The upsides of traditional television are still very strong, despite the streaming boom. An actual fact is that viewers still spend more time watching TV live than viewing content via the internet. From that perspective, TV remains a key channel for brand awareness, marketers’ top objective for the year ahead. This goal is reflected in TV advertising spending, with nearly half of all ad dollars going to television stations across the U.S.

There’s no discounting the importance of reaching the largest audience possible, but doing so requires more planning and strategy than it did when our media choices were far more finite. SME Scarborough data shows 47% of U.S. adults watch either little or no TV (weekly cable, broadcast) while traditional TV is still the media staple. The light viewers also spend less time watching TV than traditional TV, spending less then two hours every day. This fragmentation of audience time can present challenges, but when advertisers have a clear understanding of channel usage, they’re better positioned to balance their spending for optimal returns.

People who see more television are more likely to be exposed to ads than people who don’t watch as much. However, as only under 30% Americans are able to watch TV for less than two hours each day, reaching and frequency strategies that heavily rely on TV can be costly and challenging. A typical three-month national TV campaign will not resonate well with viewers who watch very few advertisements. In a recent campaign, SME Media Impact found that light viewers didn’t even see two ads. Heavy TV viewers, on the other hand, were exposed to as many as 25 advertisements. It can also be hard to control the amount of ads viewers see when a campaign relies too heavily on one media.

It’s possible that a brand could achieve its reach and targeting goals with a narrow media mix. However, as audiences stream more and media behaviours change, it is becoming increasingly important to have a diverse media mix. And many marketers are actively pivoting to engage audiences where they’re spending more time, paying increasing attention to emerging digital channels like social media and connected TV. 

SME 2022 Annual Marketing Report found that North America marketers have spent over half of their 2021 advertising budgets in digital channels. They plan to continue increasing digital spending in the future. North America’s marketers were planning to boost their spending on social media by 61%. This is despite the fact that they consider it more effective than radio and TV (57% extremely/very efficient vs. 49%, 41% and respectively) 

As with any strategy and decision, data needs to be a marketer’s best guide. However, perceptions may not always be accurate. To better understand the ways in which different channels perform, we recently used SME Media Impact to gauge the effectiveness of a single, one-month $5 million auto campaign simply by adjusting a typical media plan to include traditional radio—without adjusting the budget. SME Ad Intel found that automotive manufacturers spend 67% and 27% respectively on TV and digital media.

Because 19 million people were more likely to be exposed, the optimised campaign increased the reach of the auto brand by 26%.

Marketers who want to maximize media plan optimization have always found it important in order to make sure that they spend efficiently across all channels. It becomes more crucial as media devices and channels fragment. It will be the responsibility of marketers to deliver tangible returns on investment. That’s the nature of marketing. But as consumers’ time spreads across new platforms and devices, effective marketing plans will consider them through the lens of target audience, time spent and messaging frequency.

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